The title above is the tag line that Bethlehem Lutheran adopted during its 50th anniversary year in 2012. It expresses clearly our experience as Lutheran Christians together on this journey. This past weekend, we heard about how our young people lived this experience out daily on their annual service trip.
As I listened to stories from the trip, I was struck by how well these folks had absorbed what I’ve been talking about all summer – that our worship together forms us as the people of God and the body of Christ, and then transforms us for service in the world. That is how their days were structured: worship together, leading to service in the world.
Looking at the tag line above, we are all “caught in grace” by the crazy and endless love that God pours out on God’s world – most deeply expressed in Jesus. This love given freely to us and for us then frees us to love and serve the neighbor without consideration, without expectation of anything in return.
Jonathan, our youth director, raised up an aspect of worship that is critically important to keep in mind as we consider its transformational aspect: worship calls us into community – or, more accurately, the Holy Spirit works through our worship to call us into community. That relational dimension, being made into the body of Christ, gives us the joy and the strength for the difficult work of being Christ to the neighbor.
We stand in the assurance that we are loved unconditionally by God. Answering the call into community teaches us that all are loved unconditionally by God. Jesus responds to the question “what is the greatest commandment” with two answers: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a bit of a twist on a cyclical pattern: God loves us and all the earth. In thanksgiving for that love, we not only love God but we also love the neighbor and all creation. I talked about it in a sermon recently as “pay it forward.”
I think this is the “created for service” part. We love, because God first loved us. Our neighbor-love takes form in more ways than we can count. All of our ministries at Bethlehem, and through the wider church, are a form of neighbor-love. We do these things because our hearts have been moved by the love of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, to be compassion poured out.
A few days into the week, I started receiving texts and emails from my colleagues in the East Bay area who were gifted with some of our young people serving at their sites. They were deeply grateful for the hard work but were particularly grateful for the kind hearts, joyful spirits, and abundant generosity of 36 young people and 8 adult leaders.
These are the same young people that came to my house a couple of summers ago and washed ALL MY WINDOWS (I have nearly 30!). They had posted a photo from that year’s summer trip of some window washing, and I posted jokingly “hey you should come wash my windows and I’ll make a donation to the youth group!”
Less than 24 hours later, one of the kids was on the phone and wanted to know if they could come out the following Saturday.
I was stunned. What kind of young people do these things? I told him I didn’t intend to MAKE them wash my windows! But he insisted they wanted to do it. So I told him I’d make tacos and they should bring their bathing suits and they could have a dip in the pool.
What kind of young people do these things?
Young people who are caught in grace. The grace of God, lavishly poured out in Christ crucified, risen, and walking with us on the road.
Young people who are called into community – into relationship with one another and with God, through Christ’s example and the Holy Spirit’s working in their lives.
Young people who are created for service, and who not only realize that is how they are created but eagerly lean right into it as the logical next step after worship of the Triune God.
Grace, community, and service enable each other. They move together in a dance that gives us a glimpse of the peaceable reign of God.
With cool t-shirts.